Keeper(s) is an ongoing participatory project, originated as an exhibition at Mission Gallery, Swansea, in April and May 2013.
The exhibition consisted of three main elements – the Tables and Towers were physical structures, while Keeper, the focus of the exhibition, was a work that examined and performed occupation of the gallery space for the duration of the exhibition.
Tables: An archipelago of tables were continually reformed throughout the duration of the exhibition – paired, clamped, clustered. Cutting, splicing, adding and removing created surfaces for many activities – social, academic and creative – eating, writing, talking.
Our relationship with furniture is a dance with objects that indicate status and role – behind the counter, the other side of the desk, at the sink. The table has a particular history expressed through everyday use and its ubiquitous presence in literature.
Towers: The ‘children’s quarters’ of literature – warm in colour, often at the top of the house and filled with natural objects – were the model for towers improvised from plywood and ladders – slightly absurd furniture on wheels, providing storage and punctuation within the gallery space.
‘Upstairs’ was a story in itself, a secret romance. No caller or neighbour had ever been allowed to go up there. All the children loved it – it was their very own world where there were no older people poking about to spoil things. And it was unique – not at all like other people’s upstairs chambers…’ (Cather 1945: 472)
Keeper: In addition to Bella Kerr, the artist leading the project, there were three keepers – Kathryn Faulkner, Karen Ingham and Jane Rendell. Kerr occupied the gallery for three weeks of the six week exhibition period, while the other keepers were present for a week each.
The keepers were guardians or guides – on duty, either witnessing, directing or interacting in other ways with those who entered the space, ‘activating’ the tables and generating events, so the table and tower installation became a changing set for diverse activities and events – teaching, making, writing – some private, silent, barely visible – others delivered to an audience, participating or passive.
The work utilised ideas developed previously in Kerr’s research Reading Rooms Manifestations of Domestic Space in Visual Art and Literature, 2008 (MPhil, written and practice-based research), but moved beyond the confines of the domestic, referencing the interactions of the gallery and education, in contrast to the regulations of family and the domestic.
The space of the art gallery is often hard to negotiate – even for those to whom it is familiar and the exhibition became an investigation of this issue and the roles of the artist and gallery visitor. Opening access through invitation or activities created new possibilites – and problems – within the space, and the possibility of extended collaborations beyond the the space and duration of the exhibition.
As the keepers joined the project and other writers and artists were asked to contribute essays or lead events, discussion revealed some key emerging themes: the book and narrative, recording and documentation; place and sentiment; teaching and the gallery space, language and translation.
‘Working Materials’, a boxed series of images and texts accompanied the exhibition.